Album Review: Beirut’s 'Gallipoli'
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 405 (NOW DEFUNCT)
After releasing the unfulfilling No No No in 2015, the trajectory of Zach Condon, the mastermind behind Beirut, pointed downward. Uninspired, the band’s original charm went out the window with their last album. Gone was the transportive Balkan mystique of Gulag Orkestar, the French flair of follow-up The Flying Club Cup, and in came a spiritless injection of indie pop triteness with No, No, No</em>. With Beirut moving further and further away from its well-traveled sound with each release since its “internationally-inspired” compositions began to replicate a tourist brochure rather than the actual places the band would often borrow its music from. Simply put, No No No trimmed more than a few pounds off a sound that was entirely them and marginally unique within the westernized, modern scope of folk music. Nevertheless, with a discouraging, disillusioned ghost of Beirut’s better years in the back of Condon’s mind, the collective— realizing its mistakes—packs the weight back on and delivers Gallipoli. A record that harkens to Beirut’s heyday, Gallipoli, once again sees the band fully immerse its listeners inside a particular time and place that radiates European glitz and glamour Since its inception, Beirut’s music has served as a convenient albeit, verdant and vivid mode of travel. That being said, for those far too poor to buy a plane ticket to the city island off the coast of Italy, allow Condon’s latest offering to sweep you away and transport you there for next to nothing. Though Beirut’s latest permits listeners to experience a world beyond borders, the origins of Gallipoli are actually a homecoming story of sorts. The concept of the album materialized when Condon had his Farfisa organ, which he left back at his parents’ home in New Mexico, shipped to New York. Unironically, this is the same organ that tied Beirut’s first two (and best) records together. Reunited at last, Condon began writing Gallipol in 2016, and from there, the band’s initial appeal was resurrected. After recording in Brooklyn for a brief bit, Condon set up shop full-time in Berlin, which eventually led the outfit on an inspired journey through the streets of Gallipoli. With Condon’s unmatched ability to capture a sense of place and atmosphere, Gallipoli reestablishes Beirut as a singular band with a sound that harkens to its more ravishing, baroque beginnings. A weeping amalgamation of ornate horns, antiqued accordion, distorted organ and mournful strings, Condon translates arrangements that casual folk connoisseurs would find unfamiliar within the western sphere of folk music. Kicking off this Mediterranean-tinged excursion, Beirut returns listeners to its intimate grandeur beginning with ‘When I Die’. Here, the band’s spruces up its lo-fi tendencies with bellowing horns and soaring strings to enhance Condon’s swooning voice as he sings—in cathartic fashion—about uncertainty in the face of death, “Now I, I feel right/ What would death steal that could harm me?/ Now I feel right/ In the darkest lair/ I feel right again.” As fear of fate dwells in his mind, the rest of Gallipoli sees Condon focus on the connective power of story. As Condon states in the album’s press release, “telling stories/tales is also how humans truly get to know each other.” With this sentiment in mind, Beirut uses the concept of “story” to accentuate and bring understanding to a world that sounds so foreign, a task which beckons listeners to the title track. One night, while unknowingly strolling through the streets of Gallipoli, Condon and co followed a brass band procession fronted by priests. This night would not only serve as the direct inspiration for the title track, but the entirety of the new album. Drawing from a deep well of cultural richness that conceals the small Southern Italian town, Beirut wrote this particular song in one sitting. At the sound of sweet, warbly organ and yearnful trumpeting, ‘Gallipoli’ commences with the line, “We tell tales to be known,” a statement that serves as the preamble to the entirety of the album. Though ‘When I Die’ conveys a more somber message, this song (and many that follow) sees Condon deliberate over time and how our own stories and legacy will (or won’t) transcend mortality. ‘I Giardini’, yet another standout cut and a mellowed-out charmer, sees Condon wield his resonant baritone to its utmost potential within pastoral framework. Condon, who many would easily deem a great vocalist, sedates the song with comfort and melancholy. As he sings, “You have direct design and stare, oh/ The call to someone barely there,” ‘I Giardini’ floats along with grace and ethereality above African hand drums coalescing toward this heavily repetitious beat that’s almost hypnotic. Two tracks later, ‘We Never Lived Here’ continues to draw out this large, orchestral breath, Condon and band seem to have embraced more than ever before. However, beneath the bubbling baroque exterior of dancing trumpets and trombones, modular synth percolates with fervency— adding a new-age luster to the band’s well-established antiquity—a direction many would welcome if the band went down that road with future records. It’s a slightly chaotic cut, but Condon’s voice delivers enough soothing reprieve to stay aligned with Gallipoli's overarching elegance. There’s no doubting the pure beauty of Beirut’s quote-unquote comeback album, but given the numerous instrumentals and lack of dynamic song structures, listeners will at times feel unfulfilled by what’s delivered. While Gallipoli does not completely revert the band to greatness, it does push the band to remember why they were cherished by so many in the first place—a well-traveled sound with storytelling that perspires sentimentality, sorrow and love-worn yearning. For years, a lot of hype surrounded the trajectory of Condon's genius—genius he displayed as a teenager with the release of his ravishing debut in 2006. But quality gave way to a slow decline with each album, it became hard to justify his generational potential. Needless to say, Gallipolii— a complete departure from band’s musically stale, emotionally sleepy No No No—reminds long-time listeners of the initial hype that surrounded Condon and Beirut long ago.
THE 405 RATING: 6.5/10